Remembering Sept. 11

Monday , September 18, 2006

By Rick Leventhal



Video: Rick's memories of 9/11

September 10, 2006

A woman approached me in the lobby of our hotel in Biloxi, Mississippi while we were covering the anniversary of hurricane Katrina.

"Rick, I just want to tell you that I watched you covered in dust that day...”

Her voice was shaking and her eyes began to tear up. I knew immediately what she was referring to. She told me how much she appreciated my steady coverage at Ground Zero on 9/11, and how she had goose bumps just talking about that day. I got them too, as I always do when I see the images or recall the events, and I choked up as I told her so.

It’s easy to forget what a beautiful morning it was. Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 was crisp and clear in New York City. The sky was a brilliant blue, nearly cloudless. It was warm and sunny and life was good.

I was in some pain that day,still recovering from knee surgery. I fully tore my right ACL in May playing basketball, and was going to physical therapy twice a week at Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side, but on 9/11, for the first time ever, the office was closed when I got there. The entire staff had taken the morning off to work a New Jersey Devils preseason hockey game, so I left, disappointed, and got to work earlier than usual. I was sitting at my desk when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the first tower, and moments later my pager went off. Our assignment editor didn't know I was in the office. He told me to head downtown ASAP.

At the time none of us knew how serious this was, that it wasn't an accident, that we were under attack, and the worst was yet to come. When I boarded the subway, I still thought it was a small plane that hit the building, somehow losing its way over the concrete jungle. I was still on the train when the second tower got slammed, and didn't find out about it until I half ran-half hobbled from Canal Street down to the scene and looked up to see both skyscrapers in flames.

"How did the second tower catch fire?" I asked a female police officer blocking my path. "That's where the second plane hit!" She told me.

It was an instantaneous shower of dread. I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach, but also knew this was an incredibly huge story and I needed to stay focused. I found a payphone, called the newsroom, and then went looking for a photographer and our satellite truck to document the tragedy unfolding before me. I found Fox engineer Pat Butler just around the corner, already establishing a satellite signal and plugging in the backup camera on the truck. He and I are forever bonded by what followed.

For the next 50 minutes, the two of us witnessed up close and personal the kind of horrors you only see on film. People screaming and running for their lives, right past us, chased by a 400 foot tall cloud of debris from the first tower's collapse that enveloped us and left us in the dark wondering if the world was coming to an end. Were we about to die?

When the smoke cleared and we ventured out of our truck, it felt like we'd landed on the moon. Everyone and everything had a thick coating of ash, and the stories they told, of watching planes smash into towers or people leap to their deaths or climbing down 70 flights of stairs in a panic or barely escaping the collapsing mass of steel and glass. The stories were gripping and tragic and hard to believe, but it was worse because we knew they were true.

One of my lasting memories of that morning was standing on Church Street four blocks from the carnage, surrounded by chaos, with the most unsettling feeling that the world was coming to an end. The baffling reality of the twin towers collapsing, killing thousands. The Pentagon being hit, rumors another plane was aiming for the White House and a dozen more had been hijacked. It was truly overwhelming. I was covered with and surrounded by the dust of death and destruction, and for the first time in my life, I didn't feel safe at home.

It was that sense of helplessness that fueled my anger at those who'd attacked us. It was immediately clear to me that this awful, unprovoked wave of insanity against innocent travelers and office workers would change our country and way of life forever, and it made me as sad as I've ever felt.

I feel that sadness whenever 9/11 is raised. It's important to keep a positive attitude about life and not dwell on the tragic events of that day, but it's far more important we never forget.

E-mail Rick

Here are some of your comments:

Rick, You have such a great passion for the news and your delivery is so sincere and honest. I will stop what I am doing to watch a report from you because I feel that I can trust what you are saying. Your 9/11 blog was open and warming, even though this is a tough topic to discuss. Your coverage that day brought me comfort and assurance in knowing that we were going to be OK. Thank you for your coverage of the news that affects me and for the way you report it. Thanks for caring about the news and the way it is delivered — Leigh Ann

Thank you for the words posted in the 9/11 blog. Your words very eloquently describe how I felt, and still feel, about that horrible day. I was safe in my office in South Carolina, but I felt as unsafe as anyone while the events unfolded on my TV screen that day. I don't know how you, and the many others that actually were there have kept going with the images you witnessed. Keep up the good work. I always enjoy your reporting — Susan (Spartanburg, SC)

Rick, I am the mother of five boys, and not one of them has ever experienced all that you have seen in your reporting. I am 83 years old, and I want you to know how proud I am of the good work that you do, and I'd love to meet your mother. Love, and please stay safe — Victoria (Daphne, AL)

Rick, I just read your article and I want to thank you for your heroic coverage of the worst nightmare of your life. I remember watching you that day, and wondering if you were safe. Today, I cried again — Linda (Thermopolis, Wyoming)

Rick, thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories of that day. It brought tears to my eyes. Remembering always does. It makes me angry as well. Angry at those who would dare attack our country and kill thousands of innocent people. As I watched FOX News that morning, I could barely believe what I was seeing. It didn't seem real, but it was for you, and everyone else in NYC. You're right when you say we should never forget. I feel some of us have. God bless — Kim (Hutchinson, KS)

Thanks for this article. Too many people want to forget the shock, the pain, and the fear of 9/11, and so they have chosen to forget what they felt on that day. I, too often hear remarks like 'we must move on and not dwell in the past,' but I think it is fear that keeps them rooted in today. 9/11 happened, and your article is right on about why we need to remember. Thanks again — Leslie (California)

On this day of remembrance, I couldn't help but write and thank you for not only your reporting on 9/11 and FOX News, but also for the reporting you did here in West Palm. It's comforting to hear news coming from someone I have trusted for many years. God keep you safe in all you do. Thank you again — The Schmidt Family (West Palm Beach, FL)

God bless you Rick. America has watched you all over the world, and we pray for your safety and thank God that there are voices not laced with insanity speaking to us in these dangerous times. You, and all of you at FOX News, have provided first-class coverage of the war on terror. Thank you — Mary Anne

I just read your piece about your experiences on 9/11/01. Having lived in New York City in the mid-eighties and then visiting and riding the subway to Ground Zero this past December, it still boggles my mind. And I must say, your coverage was outstanding. It was easy to see from the way you stood and moved that you were in pain but still doing what a good reporter does: reporting. Thank you for that. I would like to add that this tragic day impacted many Americans in ways we will never know. My son had just arrived home on terminal leave after spending six years in the Army. When I talked to my mother by phone in Indiana — I live in Texas — her first thought was, “Thank God, Chad is home.” In my stress, I made the mistake of telling her that he was expecting to be called back any minute. He wasn’t, and how I wish I could take back those words! Three days later she had a massive stroke which left her paralyzed until her death in 2003. The stroke was believed to have been caused by stress. I live and work in sight of the D/FW airport. The planes were grounded so I couldn’t even fly to Indiana to be with her. We drove overnight and were stopped and our vehicle lightly searched a couple of times. What a nightmare! I am sure there are stories all over this country of people being affected in hundreds of ways. I truly believe your last line is correct, “it is far more important that we never forget.” — Linda (Grapevine, TX)